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A Taste of Cuba

Restaurants introduce Cuban and Cuban-inspired items.

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Los Compadres has long been a hot spot for Mexican food in Memphis. What patrons might not know is that owners Pablo Lara and Karen Otero are native Cubans and have recently added a separate Cuban menu. After a trial run of "Cuban Sundays," Lara and Otero decided to offer the menu, in addition to the Mexican menu, seven days a week.

Cuban food differs from Mexican as it isn't spicy or cheese-laden. Highlights from the new menu include fried plantains, tamales Cubanos (slightly sweet Cuban pork tamales), and the chicharron de pollo (seasoned and fried chicken). There are familiar Cuban foods such as beans and rice and also some traditional foods you might not recognize, like boiled yuca, a root vegetable that tastes very similar to a potato.

It all feels like what you might be served at someone's home. The portions are big, which makes for a great family-style meal.

Los Compadres, 3295 Poplar

(458-5731)

Chef Reinaldo Alfonso of the Peabody's Chez Philippe has recently begun transforming the French-cuisine-based menu into a fusion of Southern cooking and Latino traditions. Born in Costa Rica and raised in Miami by his Cuban parents, Alfonso first learned to cook from his mother and grandmother. Now, crafting the "Nuevo Southern" cuisine — a term he uses to describe this eclectic mix — Alfonso calls on his Cuban heritage to bring a new flare to old favorites.

"We went from being a French restaurant with Jose Gutierrez to French-Asian with Reny," says Kelly Earnest of the Peabody. "We've done that for a few years. I think Reny's been slowly sneaking stuff in under the radar, but now is the first time we've officially embraced the Cuban influences that he's bringing to the table."

Those influences come through in dishes like the shrimp and grits, made with camarones enchilados (chili shrimp) and a swiss chard Cuban tamale. "It's familiar to the Southern palate," Alfonso says, "but it's using Latin ingredients." He has also replaced many of the standard ingredients, like potatoes, with malanga, yuca, and other Caribbean root vegetables.

A Cuban-style braised Neola Farms beef forms the basis for the Cuban favorite ropas viejas or "old clothes" and is served with fried plantains and malanga puree. Papas rellenas (potatoes with crawfish stuffing) is topped with an andouille-crawfish cream and sour orange and onion relish.

There is still a French streak to the menu, but the Cuban mixes in well, much like French-Creole cuisine. "Cuban food is very similar to Creole cuisine down South," Alfonso says. "It's not as spicy, but it's a lot of the same ingredients: peppers, onion, garlic, paprika. Cuban food is called cocina criolla, which translates to 'Creole,' but it's not the same type of Creole. It's a mixture of Spanish, Indian, and African influences."

Chez Philippe, The Peabody, 149 Union (529-4188)

R.I.P. Jay Uiberall

Memphis mourns the loss of restaurant great Jay Uiberall, after an accident at Pickwick last Saturday. Uiberall was partner and manager of a number of popular Memphis eateries: Alfred's, Automatic Slim's, Ubee's, and Catering for You. A longtime member of the Memphis Restaurant Association, Uiberall leaves a legacy of favorite local restaurants and hangouts.

At press time, plans were being made for a memorial on Beale Street. Details to come.

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